FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 10, 2014
SANTA FE, N.M.— The New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) filed its Brief in Chief yesterday in an appeal against the adoption of the Copper Rule – a rule that regulates discharges from copper mines. The brief argues that the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) violated the state’s Water Quality Act when it adopted the Copper Rule, and asks the Court of Appeals to set the rule aside.
The Water Quality Act mandates that the WQCC adopt regulations that prevent or abate water pollution, but the Copper Rule expressly allows all copper mines to pollute New Mexico’s groundwater with acid rock drainage, metals and other contaminants. The NMELC represents groups Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP), and Amigos Bravos, along with Turner Ranch Properties, L.P., in opposition to the Copper Rule.
“This rule, on its face, allows toxic pollution into groundwater,” says Bruce Frederick, NMELC Staff Attorney. “Given that sixty-five percent of our state is currently in severe drought or worse – including Grant County where Freeport McMoRan’s massive copper mines are located – our decision-makers should be developing rules that protect groundwater. The law is clear in New Mexico: water is a public resource, and it must be protected.”
Freeport-McMoRan is a global copper mining corporation that owns three copper mining complexes in New Mexico. Currently there is a total of over 20,000 acres, about 31 square miles, of polluted ground water at all three mines. The NMELC and its clients have challenged the WQCC and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) for colluding with Freeport-McMoRan to draft and advocate for the Copper Rule. (See here and here)
“Groundwater in our state belongs to all New Mexicans and is protected under the Water Quality Act for our communities and for future generations,” says Allyson Siwik, GRIP Executive Director. “The copper rule illegally allows thousands of acre-feet of groundwater under Grant County mines to be contaminated for the sole profit of mining giant Freeport-McRoRan and its shareholders. This is unconscionable.”
“The citizens of New Mexico deserve to have leaders that value and protect clean water and public health” says Rachel Conn, Projects Director for Amigos Bravos. “This new copper rule is an industry wish list and stands out as the one of the worse examples, in a long list of actions, where the leadership of New Mexico has failed to protect water, watersheds, and communities.”
Opposing parties have 75 days to respond to the filed brief. The Court of Appeals could take a year to decide on the case.
“As communities throughout the state are confronted by the critical impacts of long-term drought, it is irresponsible to allow mining companies to pollute our precious groundwater that is needed by everyone,” says Siwik. “The Court of Appeals needs to restore our Water Quality Act regulation so that it protects groundwater for all of us without giving the copper mining industry its own license to pollute.”
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* In 2009, the New Mexico Legislature mandated the WQCC to specify water discharge regulations for the dairy and copper mining industries to prevent water pollution and protect water quality.
* In 2012, NMED put together an advisory committee that included members from the copper mining company Freeport-McMoRan, public interest groups, and technical experts to craft a new copper rule to present to the WQCC. The advisory committee met frequently over a period of eight months, and in mid-August sent a draft rule to NMED.
* At Freeport’s request, the NMED’s upper management overruled the recommendations of the advisory committee – including the recommendations of its own technical staff – and incorporated language (much of it written by Freeport) that would allow Freeport (and other copper mine operators) to routinely pollute groundwater.
* In April 2013, the NMED presented its draft water quality rules for copper mines before the WQCC. The NMELC and its clients opposed the Rule on grounds that it expressly allows pollution of groundwater and it is illegal under the Water Quality Act. NMED’s own technical staff involved in the copper rule development process did not attend the hearing to testify on the draft rule.
* The WQCC voted 9 – 1 in September 2013 to approve the draft copper rule with little deliberation. In making its decision, the commission adopted, with one small non-substantive change, the Proposed Statement of Reasons submitted by NMED, written with substantial help from Freeport-McMoRan.
* On October 8, 2013 the NMELC filed a Notice of Appeal in New Mexico Court of Appeals.
* On the grounds that adoption of the Rule would cause irreparable harm, NMELC filed a Request to Stay implementation of the Copper Rule until the Court of Appeals made a decision in the case.
* On January 8, 2014 the WQCC voted to reject the request to stay.
* On February 19, 2014 the NMELC filed a Motion for Stay of the Copper Rule and a Brief in Support of Stay with the NM Court of Appeals. The Court could decide on the Motion for Stay as early as Summer 2014.